... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reviewing Games and Adventures

People are all a-buzz about this comment, and similar comments on a review in a blog:
Wondering why some game reviewers are idiots. Newspapers don’t review movies based on a script. Why review a module without playing it?”
I left the name off because that's not important for what I'm about to say. I'm not going to say what other people are saying. I'm going to say what I haven't heard anyone say yet.

You should not base a review of a game or adventure on actual play.

You are not reviewing a play session or a play group. Actual play gets reviewed in actual play posts. The game is not the session. GMs can modify rules and adventures, even unconsciously; players will adapt themselves to what other players are doing. This makes actual play worthless for reviewing a product.

It's true that you review a movie after you watch it. That's because the movie is the product. For games and adventures, the printed text, graphics and maps are the product. You review that.

You'd think that would be obvious.


  1. Regardless of how a DM or players adapt the adventure differently, there are plenty of chances in actual play for flaws or pluses in the adventure's design to be exposed that would have been missed on a simple read-through.

    Your argument is just about the poorest I've heard in this entire debate. The intended use of an adventure is to be employed at the game table. To review ANYTHING without engaging in its intended use is to offer up a fundamentally incomplete review. If you bought a car, you wouldn't review it after simply looking at it for a while and maybe sitting in the driver's seat. You'd drive it. Because reviewing the car without seeing how it runs would be silly.

    You'd think that would be obvious.

  2. You might want to rethink that. The difference between an RPG and a car is that a car doesn't have imaginary parts and doesn't suddenly sprout new abilities based on the desires of the driver.

    We don't care about the stuff that we can imagine ourselves in play; we can take care of that ourselves. We care about whether the product is clear, comprehensible, complete, and interesting.

  3. There is something to this but I think play and read is by far the strongest. When you review a book before play, you're really reviewing how easy it is to understand and get a feeling for the mechanics. When you play with the book, you get more of a feeling of the rules and a better understanding of how the book holds up under the pressure of the session. Books without good contents pages or indexes, tend to fall down a bit. If the rules are easy to find and understand then the GM will not need to invent and go off-piste.

    Actual play reports have their place but they aren't the same as reviewing after play. Sadly, there aren't any analogies (cars, planes, movies, weekends with grandparents) that work. A roleplaying game is a very specific item and it does bear reviewing both without play and with play.

  4. @Rob: I'm willing to allow some auxiliary benefit from play. But gor a review, play is only useful if it finds a hidden defect, as you mention. If it doesn't find a defect, there's not much more to say other than "I played it". The people who say "only an idiot would review a module without playing it" are saying this in response to negative reviews that find obvious defects in the physical product itself. They seem to think that "actual fun" should trump defects; maybe, but shouldn't that be up to individual gamers willing to take the risk?